By JEFF CLEMETSON
In its now 60 years of operation serving the San Diego community, Allied Gardens-based Ideal Plumbing Heating Air Electrical has weathered a lot of ups and downs in the economy.
“We have — and that’s been a kind of blessing,” said owner Don Teemsma Jr. “They’ve not all been great years, so those experiences sort of help you understand how to adapt and change and make the right adjustments for what you have to do.”
In this current economic storm caused by a once-in-a-century pandemic event, Ideal has made some temporary changes to its operation, including closing its office at 5161 Waring Road to walk-in traffic and switching to a by-appointment-only schedule.
“Not having the store open has really made it quiet here,” Teemsma said. “It’s quiet anyway but it’s amazing how different our operation is without it.”
Like almost every other business one can think of, Ideal has seen a drop in customers for its services, which include plumbing, heating, air conditioning, electrical and remodeling work. Teemsma said that is likely a combination of potential customers wanting to limit the number of people they come in contact with and lowered incomes during the pandemic.
Even so, Teemsma said, there is still “quite a bit of essential business being done” because repairs to a home’s water and sewer system is vital, as his plumbing association’s motto states: “A plumber protects the health of the nation.”
For the over 50 employees at Ideal, Teemsma said he has been as accommodating as he can. Some took the time off because they or a family member is in a population vulnerable to COVID-19.
“But the employees that can work are back to work in some limited capacity,” he added. “We were very lucky to get the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan so that’s been a real blessing to us … to take care of our employees and make sure they are covered, at least for that eight-week period.”
History of a community business
Ideal Plumbing & Heating was founded in 1960, when Teemsma’s father, Don Teemsma Sr., left the plumbing firm he worked for and bought a home in Allied Gardens where he initially ran his business. A few years later, Don Sr. moved into a store front on the north side of Waring Road — across the street from where the business is today.
In 1965, Ideal acquired a hardware store and operated as Ideal Plumbing & Hardware. But like many mom and pop hardware stores, it eventually succumbed to market forces.
“When the big box stores came of age, like Home Depot, it just didn’t make sense to compete in that space,” Teemsma said. “And we needed the room for what our core business was.”
After 30 years on the north side of Waring, Ideal moved to its location on the south side — a space in a strip-style shopping center that used to house a drug store. The new location allowed the company to grow and offer new services like air conditioning, electrical and kitchen and bath remodeling.
Although Don Jr. said he grew up in his father’s plumbing business since he was 10 years old, it wasn’t until
the early 1980s that he started taking on the responsibility of running it. Don Jr. officially took over Ideal in 1991 and has been growing the business steadily since.
In addition to founding Ideal, in 1981 Don Sr. started a second business, Mission Valley Pipe & Supply on Mission Gorge Place, which he owned and operated until June 2019 when Ferguson Enterprises purchased it. Don Sr. passed away in February of this year, having lived to see the first company he founded reach its 60-year milestone.
In addition to growing its business service in San Diego, Ideal has also grown its community service, especially in the Navajo community.
“My dad was a good mentor for me in that regard. “He had always been deeply connected to the community in a lot of different ways,” Teemsma said, adding that his father had served as president of the Del Cerro Action Council; was a bishop in the Mormon church, ministering to students at SDSU; served on the board of the Salvation Army’s foundation; served on the grand jury; and often donated to local representatives and politicians.
When Don Jr. took on more responsibility running Ideal in the early 1980s, he continued in his father’s civic-minded footsteps, first by getting involved with groups like the Allied Gardens-Grantville Community Council and the Navajo Planners.
“At the time, there was a big interest to put a median down Waring Road. I got involved with putting that in. And the Jacaranda Bowl, which is kind of a tree grove of Jacarandas as you come up Waring Road, I got involved with that,” he said, adding that serving local groups and causes helped introduce him to more people in the community.
Teemsma also donates time and money to Rotary International and the San Diego Fire & Rescue Foundation.
“After the fires in 2002 and 2007, I saw the devastation from that and the great work the fire department did,” he said. “It brought me back to the days when my grandparents lived in the Normal Heights area and their house almost burned down, so I’ve always had a great affinity for the fire department.”
Recently, Teemsma has helped the Fire & Rescue Foundation purchase AED defibrillator machines for public spaces, making them available for anyone to use to save the lives of people going through cardiac arrest.
“It has been a really interesting journey,” he said. “Of all the things I got involved in, [public service is] all about helping people and being good and being available to give a little bit of money here and there where I can and try to be good citizen.”
Another community service, which is sponsored by Ideal, is sponsoring the free First Friday concerts held on the first Friday of the month in Allied Gardens Community Park — and the free hot dogs offered there as well.
In its first year, Ideal was the title sponsor of the First Friday concerts and to “get the ball rolling” with a good turnout, Teemsma invited his employees and their families to attend and enticed them with a free picnic. The large group comprised of Ideal’s nearly 50 employees and their families also enticed other concert goers.
“People were coming over and asking ‘How much are the hot dogs? How much are the hamburgers?’” Teemsma said. Because the hot dog feed wasn’t supposed to be a money-making venture, Ideal found itself at the center of yet another community-serving enterprise. “We started feeding people the extra food and it was really fun.”
After the first year of giving out extra food, Ideal planned on and advertised the free hot dogs the second year. As the demand for more and different food grew, Ideal brought in financial help from the company’s vendors and suppliers who are “just as excited as we are to do it,” Teemsma said. “We just started feeding people and it’s been great and we’ve done it for five years now.”
Giving back to the community — like giving out hot dogs at local concerts — is just one of the aspects of Ideal that Teemsma credits with the company’s longevity.
“My advice [to other businesses looking to last] is to build relationships with your customers, do the job right the first time, and always be available,” he said. “We do very little advertising and it’s truly a relationship business. I think giving back to the community helps that connection. And take care of your employees because they really are the heart and soul of your company.”
— Reach editor Jeff Clemetson at firstname.lastname@example.org.